Saturday, February 28, 2015

FBI: Joint Effort Takes Down Detroit-Based "Smash & Grab" Robbery Group

The FBI web site reports on their take down of a robbery group.

Today, the FBI and its partners announced three separate indictments filed during the past month against 17 individuals from the metropolitan Detroit area who are believed to be responsible for a number of “smash and grab” robberies of jewelry stories in a half-dozen states. The charges, filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan, involved violations of the Hobbs Act, which makes it a crime to obstruct, delay, or affect interstate commerce by robbery.

The indictments follow a series of investigations around the nation by various local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies involving approximately 40 smash and grab jewelry store robberies. Authorities also announced they are looking for the public’s help in identifying 16 other individuals believed to be connected to additional smash and grab robberies (see Seeking Information poster below).

Smash and grab robberies are aptly named—they involve perpetrators who enter a jewelry store and, in front of store employees and customers alike, threateningly whip out tools like sledgehammers, smash those hammers through the glass displays, and grab expensive pieces of jewelry before taking off, stunning and frightening anyone who witnesses their actions. In addition to the constant threat of violence from these criminals, there have been instances of innocent bystanders actually getting hurt during these robberies.

You can read the rest of the report via the below link: 

Friday, February 27, 2015

DEA Congratulates Mexico On Arrest Of Knights Templar Cartel Leader "La Tuta"

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released the below statement:

DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart (seen in the above official DEA photo) today issued the following statement in response to the capture of Knights Templar Cartel Leader Servando Gomez-Martinez, a.k.a. “La Tuta” by the Mexican Federal Police:
"The arrest of Servando Gomez-Martinez, a.k.a. "La Tuta," is another win for Mexico in the fight against brutal criminal cartels like the Knights Templar. La Tuta led one of the world's most vicious and violent drug and criminal networks.  He not only headed the drug trafficking activities, but was in charge of all organized crime, including extortion, kidnappings, and murder. We congratulate the  brave members of the Mexican Federal Police for their successful operation and look forward to more successes against global organized crime." 

Note: You can read about Gomez-Martinez via the below link:

U.S. Intelligence Chief Describes 'Pervasive Uncertainty' Of Worldwide Threats

Jim Garamone at the DoD News offers the below piece:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2015 - "Unpredictable instability" is the new normal, the director of National Intelligence told the Senate Armed Services Committee here yesterday.

James R. Clapper (seen above in his official photo) testified on worldwide threats facing the United States and gave his best advice on what he considers to be the dangers Americans need to be aware of.

He said 2014 had the highest rate of political instability since 1992, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Last year also saw the most deaths as a result of state-sponsored mass killing and the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons since World War II.

"This pervasive uncertainty makes it all the harder to predict the future," he said.

The North Korean cyberattack on Sony, the Ebola epidemic, and dramatic terrorist attacks in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France and the United States mean 2015 promises to be as unstable as 2014, Clapper said.

Cyber, Terror Concerns

Cyberattacks are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication and severity of impact, he said. The U.S. government must be prepared for a massive cyberattack, he added, but the truth is the nation is already living with a constant and expanding barrage of cyberattacks.

Nations, criminal networks, terror groups and even individuals can launch these attacks, Clapper said. He highlighted the actions of North Korea, Iran, Russia and China in the cyber realm.

The terrorist threat grew last year, also, the director said.

"In 2013, just over 11,500 terrorist attacks worldwide killed approximately 22,000 people," he said. "Preliminary data for the first nine months of 2014 reflects nearly 13,000 attacks, which killed 31,000 people."

About half of all attacks, as well as fatalities occurred in just three countries: Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Clapper said. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant conducted more terror attacks than any other entity in the first nine months of 2014.

A new terror threat comes from "radicalized" individuals who travel to fight with ISIL in Syria or Iraq and then return to their home countries and launch attacks there, Clapper said. He estimates more than 20,000 Sunni foreign fighters have traveled to Syria from more than 90 countries to fight the Assad regime. Of that number, at least 13,600 have extremist ties, he said.

"About 180 Americans or so have been involved in various stages of travel to Syria," Clapper said.

Rise of ISIL

ISIL is increasing its influence outside of Iraq and Syria, seeking to expand its self-declared caliphate into the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and South Asia and planning terrorist attacks against Western and Shia interests, Clapper said.

"ISIL's rise represents the greatest shift in the Sunni violent extremist landscape since al-Qaida affiliates first began forming, and it is the first to assume at least some characteristics of a nation state," the director said.

Iran is exerting its influence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, he said. Iranian leaders have provided robust military support to Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad and to the Iraqi government. This includes arms, advisers, funding, intelligence collection, electronic warfare and cyber support and combat support, Clapper explained.

"More broadly, Iran will face many of the same decision points in 2015 as it did in 2014," Clapper said. "Foremost is whether the supreme leader will agree to a nuclear deal. He wants sanctions relief but, at the same time, to preserve his options on nuclear capabilities."

Yemen's political future and stability are, at best, uncertain. Iran has provided support to the Houthis -- a group that now controls the government -- for years," Clapper said. "Their ascendancy is increasing Iran's influence."

Russia's Intentions in Eastern Europe

Clapper discussed problematic relations with Russia, as the country seems intent on a revanchist strategy with Ukraine squarely in the cross hairs.

"Moscow sees itself in direct confrontation with the West over Ukraine and will be very prone to overreact to U.S. actions," he said. "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin's goals are to keep Ukraine out of NATO and to ensure separatist control of an autonomous entity within Ukraine. He wants Moscow to retain leverage over Kiev, and Crimea, in his view, is simply not negotiable."

China Modernizes its Military

China is an emerging power and China's leaders are primarily concerned with domestic issues, the Communist Party's hold on power, internal stability and economic growth, Clapper said.

"Although China is looking for stable ties with the United States," he said, "it is more willing to accept bilateral and regional tensions in pursuit of its interest, especially on maritime-sovereignty issues."

The Chinese government continues a robust military modernization program directly aimed at what they consider to be U.S. strengths, Clapper said.

"Their military training program last year included exercises unprecedented in scope, scale and complexity to both test modernization progress and to improve their theater warfare capabilities," he said.

FBI Counterterrorism Executive Briefs Congress On ISIL And Domestic Terrorism

The FBI website offers the below report:

The day after a criminal complaint was unsealed in federal court in New York charging three Brooklyn residents with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), FBI Assistant Director Michael Steinbach (seen in the below photo) briefed a congressional subcommittee on the dynamic threat posed by foreign fighters traveling in support of ISIL and the continued threat to America posed by homegrown violent extremists.

According to Steinbach, the conflict in Syria and Iraq is currently the most attractive overseas theater for Western-based extremists who want to engage in violence. The Bureau estimates upwards of 150 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to join extremist groups, and it also has to consider the influence of groups like ISIL on individuals located in the U.S. who could be inspired (particularly through the Internet and social media) to commit acts of violence. “It is this blending of homegrown violent extremism with the foreign fighter ideology that is today’s latest adaptation of the threat,” said Steinbach.

Given the global nature of these threats, Steinbach said that “regular engagement with our domestic and foreign partners concerning foreign fighters is critical,” and that—with these partners—we collect and analyze intelligence information related to the ongoing threat posed by ISIL and other foreign terrorist organizations. In addition to using a variety of investigative techniques and methods to combat these threats, the FBI recognizes its responsibility to share information concerning ongoing or emerging threats quickly with our local and state partners—and our Joint Terrorism Task Forces located in each of our 56 field offices serve as a “vital mechanism” for doing just that.

Steinbach was joined at the hearing—held before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations—by two of the Bureau’s local law enforcement partners: Charlotte (North Carolina) Police Chief Rodney Monroe and Hennepin County (Minnesota) Sheriff Richard Stanek.  

International Arms Traffickers Extradited For Conspiring To Kill Officers Or Employees Of The United States And To Provide Material Support to a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York and Administrator Michele Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced today the extradition of Cristian Vintila, 44, Massimo Romagnoli, 43, and Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 42, international arms traffickers charged with conspiring to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the FARC) – a designated foreign terrorist organization – to be used to kill officers and employees of the United States in Colombia. Vintila, Georgescu, and Romagnoli, all of whom were arrested in December 2014, were extradited from Montenegro yesterday and will be arraigned in front of U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams later today.

“As alleged, these three men were ready and willing merchants of death, poised to sell sophisticated weapons to a terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “It is further alleged that they conspired to sell the weaponry with the understanding that it would be used to shoot down American aircraft and kill American officers.  We once again laud the efforts of the DEA to stem the flow of lethal weapons that could be aimed at U.S. officers and to deter weapons traffickers who mean harm to the United States.”

According to the Indictment, which was unsealed in December 2014:

Since at least May 2014, Vintila has been a Romania-based weapons trafficker, Romagnoli has been a Europe-based weapons trafficker, who is able to procure fraudulent end-user certificates (EUCs) for military-grade weaponry, and Georgescu has been a Romania-based weapons broker.  Between May and October 2014, Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu conspired to sell an arsenal of weapons, including machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons, with the understanding that the weapons would go to the FARC to be used by FARC against the United States.  During a series of recorded telephone calls and in-person meetings, Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu agreed to sell the weapons to three confidential sources working with the DEA (the CSs), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC.  Vintila, Romagnoli and Georgescu agreed to provide these weapons to the CSs with the specific understanding that the weapons would be used to kill officers and employees of the United States and, in particular, to shoot down American helicopters and airplanes.  Romagnoli further agreed to provide fraudulent EUCs in order to make the illegal sale of weapons look legitimate.

During their recorded meetings, Vintila and Romagnoli provided the CSs with catalogues of military-grade weapons they were prepared to provide the FARC.  Vintila gave the CSs a catalogue of weapons that included pistols, machine guns and other high-powered weaponry, and Romagnoli showed the CSs a catalogue that included automatic weapons and shoulder-fired rocket launchers.  Romagnoli additionally showed one of the CSs a sample fraudulent EUC.  Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu also discussed the logistics of receiving payment for the weapons from the CSs and delivering the weapons to the FARC.

* * *
The indictment charges Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu, with two separate terrorism offenses:
Count one charges all three defendants with conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees.  If convicted of count one, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of life in prison.  Count two charges all three defendants with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, the FARC.  If convicted of count two, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.  The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Assistant Attorney General Carlin joined U.S. Attorney Bharara in praising the outstanding investigative efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division, the DEA’s Bucharest Country Office, the DEA’s Rome Country Office, the Montenegrin National Police, and the Romanian National Police.  The defendants’ arrests and subsequent extradition are also the result of the close cooperative efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the National Security Division of the Department of Justice, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.

The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrea Surratt and Ilan Tuviah Graff, with assistance provided by Trial Attorney Brenda Sue Thornton of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Live Free Or Die: The Life And Wars Of John Stark

Chris Carola at the Washington Times offers a review of Richard V. Polhemus and John F. Polhemus' Stark: The Life and Wars of John Stark.

His words grace New Hampshire’s license plates - “Live Free or Die” - yet most people outside New England would be hard-pressed to identify Gen. John Stark, despite his heroics in two 18th century wars, including key roles in some of the American Revolution’s most significant battles.

Two brothers hope to enlighten readers with their new book on the Granite State’s favorite son, who did most of his soldiering in New York while serving in the forerunner of today’s U.S. Army Rangers and, two decades later, leading troops in the nation’s fight for independence.

“He was a lot better known in past years than he is now. He deserves for that to change,” said retired lawyer Richard Polhemus of Dover, New York, co-author with his brother, John, of “Stark, The Life and Wars of John Stark,” recently published by Delmar, New York-based Black Dome Press.

Born in New Hampshire to Scottish immigrant parents in 1728, Stark grew up hunting and trapping in the northern New England woods, where settlers were under constant threat of attack from Abenaki Indians allied to the French in Canada. In 1755, when the French and Indian War began, Stark joined a company of frontier scouts led by his friend, Robert Rogers.

Known as Rogers’ Rangers, the unit became famous for its daring forays into the northern New York wilderness to scout enemy movements for the British army. As one of Rogers’ lieutenants, Stark proved to be a cool-headed officer in some of the war’s fiercest guerrilla-style engagements. That reputation served him well when he recruited scouts for the Rangers and, later, New Hampshire militiamen during the Revolutionary War.  

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

FBI Agent Testifying In Trial Of Accused Al Qaeda Terrorist Says He Saw Body Of Osama Bin Laden

John Marzulli and Doreh Gregorian at the New York Daily News report on the testimony of an FBI special agent who says he saw the dead body of the most wanted terrorist in the world, Osama bin Laden.

He saw the body of the devil himself.

Testifying at a Brooklyn terror trial on Wednesday, FBI special agent Alexander Otte recalled seeing the corpse of Osama bin Laden after the Navy SEALS daring 2011 raid on the terror mastermind's secret lair in Pakistan.

Otte secured the computer files that were seized by the SEALS. They were delivered to a military hangar in Afghanistan — along with a corpse.

"It was the body of Osama bin Laden. I knew who he was," Otte said. “I recognized him

The computer files outlined other planned plots against the U.S. by the architects of the Sept. 11th attacks.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snowden Could Not Attend The Oscars For Some Treason: Snowden's Disclosures Have Damaged U.S. Efforts To Battle Terrorists, Says NSA Admiral

Veteran national security reporter Bill Gertz at the Washington Free Beacan offers a piece on the NSA director's comments on Edward Snowden, who in my view is a spy and traitor.

Disclosures of National Security Agency secrets by the former contractor Edward Snowden have damaged U.S. efforts to battle terrorists, NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers said on Monday.

“I would say that it has had a material impact on our ability to generate insights as to what terrorist groups around the world are doing,” Rogers said at a conference in Washington.

The admiral declined to provide specifics. “I don’t want them to have any doubt in their minds we are aggressively out hunting and looking for them,” he said during a cyber security conference hosted by the New America Foundation.

“And they should be concerned about that, and I want them to be concerned, quite frankly, because I’m concerned about the security of our nation,” Rogers said.

The director of the NSA in his comments voiced concerns that the security of Americans and overseas allies has been undermined by the leaks. “So anyone who thinks this has not had an impact, I would say, doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.

... "Edward Snowden could not be here for some treason,” Harris said after Citizenfour, a film about Snowden, won an Oscar.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Former Connecticut Resident Pleads Guilty To Attempting To Send Sensitive Military Documents To Iran

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin and U.S. Attorney Deirdre M. Daly for the District of Connecticut announced that Mozaffar Khazaee, 60, formerly of Manchester, Connecticut, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant in Hartford to violating the Arms Export Control Act, in connection with his efforts to send to Iran sensitive, proprietary, trade secret and export controlled material relating to military jet engines for the U.S. Air Force’s F35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the F-22 Raptor program, which he had stolen from defense contractors where he had previously been employed.

“While employed with U.S. defense contractors, Mozaffar Khazaee stole sensitive, proprietary and controlled technology to send it to Iran,” said U.S. Attorney Daly.  “The illegal export of our military technology compromises U.S. national security and reduces the advantages our armed forces currently possess.  As today’s case demonstrates, we will aggressively investigate and hold accountable those who attempt to steal trade secrets and sensitive military technology from U.S. industries, whether for their own personal gain or for the benefit of foreign actors.”

“Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the ongoing cooperation with our federal law enforcement partners to prevent U.S. technology from falling into the wrong hands,” said Special Agent in Charge Bruce Foucart of HSI Boston.  “Across the globe, the magnitude and scope of threats facing the United States has never been greater, and that's why one of Homeland Security Investigations highest priorities is to prevent illicit procurement networks, terrorist groups and hostile nations from illegally obtaining U.S. military products and sensitive dual-use technologies.  Homeland Security Investigations takes pride in protecting our country, and today’s guilty plea is the latest example of our effective investigative efforts.”

“This joint investigation has emphasized the need for American companies to remain vigilant against the theft of valuable and sensitive technologies,” said Special Agent in Charge Patricia M. Ferrick of the FBI’s New Haven Division.  “As our nation continues to lead the way in research and development, we are constantly reminded that there are those who seek to advance their own causes by stealing the hard work of others, and we owe it to ourselves and to the American public to guard against it. The FBI vigorously investigates these matters in cooperation with our law enforcement partners, both domestic and abroad.”

“This investigation demonstrates the dedication of the Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service and our federal and military partners to ensure that critical technology is not exploited by criminals acting on behalf of governments hostile to the U.S.,” said Special Agent in Charge Craig W. Rupert of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s Northeast Field Office.  “Foreign governments continue to actively seek U.S. military technology in an effort to advance their own military development.  Today’s plea represents our continuing efforts to safeguard sensitive technology and to shield America’s investment in national defense by thwarting those who try to illegally acquire our national security assets.”

According to court documents and statements made in court, at different times between 2001 and 2013, Khazaee was employed by three separate defense contractors.  From at least 2009 through and including late 2013, Khazaee attempted to use trade secret, proprietary and export controlled material that he had obtained from his employers to gain employment in Iran.

In November and December 2009, Khazaee corresponded by email with an individual in Iran to whom he attempted to send, and in some cases did send, documents containing trade secret, proprietary and export controlled material relating to the Joint Strike Fighter Program.  In one email Khazaee wrote “some of these are very controlled . . . and I am taking [a] big risk.  Again please after downloading these two Power Point files delete everything immediately.”

Analysis of Khazaee’s computer media revealed not only additional documents containing proprietary, trade secret and export controlled material belonging to the U.S. defense contractors at which he had been employed, but also cover letters and application documents, dating from in or about 2009 through in or about 2013, in which Khazaee sought employment with multiple state-controlled technical universities in Iran.  In multiple letters Khazaee described the knowledge and skills he had obtained while working for the U.S. defense contractors and wrote:  “[a]s lead engineer in these projects I have learned some of the key technique[s] that could be transferred to our own industry and universities.”  Khazaee stated that he was “looking for an opportunity to work in Iran, and . . . transferring my skill and knowledge to my nation.”

In or about November 2013, while residing in Connecticut, Khazaee caused a shipment to be sent by truck from Connecticut to a freight forwarder located in Long Beach, California, which was intended for shipment to Iran.  The shipment included numerous boxes and digital media containing thousands of documents consisting of sensitive technical manuals, specification sheets, technical drawings and data, and other proprietary material relating to military jet engines and the United States Air Force’s F35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and the F-22 Raptor.  Many documents were labeled as “Export-Controlled,” as well as stamped with “ITAR-controlled” warnings.  Khazaee did not apply for nor did he obtain any export license or written authorization to export any of the documents, and the export or attempted export of such material to Iran is illegal.

On Jan. 9, 2014, Khazaee was arrested at the Newark Liberty International Airport before boarding a flight with a final destination of Iran.  Search warrants executed on Khazaee’s checked and carry-on luggage revealed additional sensitive, proprietary, trade secret and export controlled documents relating to military jet engines, in both hard copy and in electronic form on Khazaee’s computer media.  Khazaee has been detained since that time.

Judge Bryan scheduled sentencing proceedings for May 20, 2015, at which time Khazaee faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.

This investigation is being led by the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations in New Haven, in coordination with the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service in New Haven and the Department of Commerce’s Boston Office of Export Enforcement.

Assistant Attorney General Carlin joins U.S. Attorney Daly in commending the efforts of the many other agencies and offices that were involved in this investigation, including U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Central District of California, the Southern District of Indiana and the District of New Jersey, Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service in Los Angeles, the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations in Los Angeles and Boston,  as well as HSI, CBP, and FBI in New Jersey, and HSI, FBI and DCIS in Indianapolis.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen Reynolds and Krishna Patel of the National Security and Major Crimes Unit of the District of Connecticut, and Trial Attorney Brian Fleming of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Memo To Iran: Real U.S. Aircraft Carriers Have Aircraft & Other Defensive Weapons

Here is one more reason the Iranians should be prevented from developing nuclear weapons.

In the above photo Iranian gunboats attack a mock U.S. aircraft carrier.

As an old carrier sailor, having served on the USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War, I was both angered and amused.

One should inform the Iranians that unlike their mock carrier, which is really only a dressed up barge, a real U.S. aircraft carrier has reconnaissance aircraft and armed aircraft dedicated to protecting the ship, as well as other defensive weapons. Also, the carriers travel in battle groups.

Unlike the Iranian barge, U.S. aircraft carriers are a hard target.

If Iranian boats and ships ever try to attack a real U.S. aircraft carrier, they will be blown out of the water.

You can read about the mock attack via the below link:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reward Announced For Cyber Fugitive

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

The Justice Department, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State’s Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) Rewards Program, announced today a reward of up to $3 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of a prolific cyber criminal.  Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev was charged with numerous violations for his role as an administrator of the GameOver Zeus botnet.

The software was used to capture bank account numbers, passwords, personal identification numbers and other information necessary to log into online banking accounts.  It is believed GameOver Zeus is responsible for more than 1 million computer infections, resulting in financial losses of more than $100 million.

Bogachev is on the FBI’s Cyber’s Most Wanted and is believed to be at large in Russia.

The TOC reward offer reaffirms the commitment of the U.S. government to bring those who participate in organized crime to justice, whether they hide online or overseas.

Bogachev was charged in 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering in connection with his alleged role as an administrator of the GameOver Zeus botnet. Bogachev was also indicted by criminal complaint in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2012 and charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud related to his alleged involvement in the operation of a prior variant of Zeus malware known as Jabber Zeus.

Anyone with information on Bogachev should contact the FBI via the Major Case Contact Center, 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324), or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  You may also submit a tip online via  All information will be kept strictly confidential.

Note: The above photo of Bogachev was released by the FBI.

FBI: A Ponzi Scheme Collapses, A Financial Crime Ring Uncovered, And Criminals Are Brought To Justice

The FBI web site offers a piece on the takedown of crooks running a major Ponzi scheme.

Nearly a dozen fraudsters who conspired to operate a $40 million Ponzi scheme will be spending plenty of time behind bars after a joint effort by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of North Carolina. Among those now serving time is the scheme’s mastermind, Keith Franklin Simmons, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison late last year. And just last month, the 11th and final defendant in the conspiracy—Jonathan D. Davey—was sentenced to more than 21 years.

The federal judge who sentenced Davey said the term handed down reflected the effects of the fraud on its 400 or so victims—mainly elderly and vulnerable—and that the scheme resulted in “life-wrecking damage” and caused victims to lose “life savings, trust, faith, and their sense of dignity.”

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Two Men Who Provided Material Support To Terrorists And Plotted To Kill American Targets In Afghanistan Receive 25-Year Prison Terms

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S Attorney Stephanie Yonekura of the Central District of California and Assistant Director in Charge David Bowdich of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office announced today that two men with ties to the Inland Empire region of California were each sentenced today to 300 months in federal prison for participating in plots to provide material support to terrorists and to kill American personnel.

The two men sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips are Sohiel Omar Kabir, 37, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Afghanistan and who until late 2011, resided in Pomona, California; and Ralph Deleon, 26, of Ontario, a lawful permanent resident and citizen of the Philippines.

Last summer, Kabir and Deleon were convicted by a federal jury for their role in a plot to travel overseas to fight against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  Specifically, the jury convicted Kabir and Deleon of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to murder United States military and government personnel.  The jury also found Kabir guilty of conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely Al-Qa’ida, and conspiring to receive military-type training from Al-Qa’ida.  In addition, the jury convicted defendant Deleon of conspiring to murder, maim, or kindap overseas.        

Two other defendants who were indicted in the case in 2012 – Miguel Alejandro Santana Vidriales and Arifeen David Gojali – previously pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Phillips on March 16, 2015.

“This case demonstrates the need for vigilance and swift action to counter the false allure of violent extremism,” said U.S. Attorney Yonekura.  “When confronted with young Americans who succumbed to the empty promises of violent extremism and sought to assist a terrorist group in killing American soldiers abroad, law enforcement acted swiftly to eliminate the threat.”

“The defendants betrayed the citizens of the United States by supporting terror and conspiring to murder military members serving overseas” said Assistant Director in Charge Bowdich.  “The lengthy prison sentences handed to Mr. Kabir and Mr. DeLeon should send a clear message to those who support terror groups that the FBI and our partners are committed to preventing deadly plots hatched either at home or abroad targeting the United States.”

The evidence presented during last year’s trial showed Kabir introduced Deleon and Santana to radical Islamic ideology in 2010.  Kabir left the United States in the final days of 2011, arriving in Afghanistan in July 2012.  While in Afghanistan, Kabir continued to communicate with Deleon and others, encouraging them to join him in Afghanistan. Kabir told the group that he had contacts with terrorist organizations and that, when they arrived, he and the group would join “the Students” – referring to the Taliban – and later “the Professors” – referring to Al-Qa’ida.

Deleon, Kabir, and others involved in the plot were heavily influenced by the doctrine of now-deceased Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula spokesman Anwar Al-Awlaki and other advocates of violent jihad, whose teachings they frequently invoked during their planning and preparation in this case.

In September 2012, Deleon recruited Gojali to join the plot to travel overseas to engage in violent jihad.  As part of their planning and preparation, Deleon led Santana and Gojali in training activities in southern California, including participating in paintball activities and traveling to firearms ranges to fire AK-47s and other assault weapons, which they expected to use in future fighting.

The men made plans to rejoin Kabir, who had relocated to Kabul, Afghanistan.  In effort to avoid detection by law enforcement, Deleon and the others planned to cross the border into Mexico by land and from there to travel to the Middle East by air.  In November 2012, Deleon purchased airline tickets for the group.  On Nov. 16, 2012, the FBI arrested Deleon, Santana, and Gojali as they departed a Chino apartment in a car driven by one of Deleon’s associates intending to drive to Mexico.  Kabir was taken into custody by American military personnel in Afghanistan.

The investigation into this terrorism scheme was conducted by the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in Riverside, California.  The Riverside JTTF is comprised of members from the following agencies: Riverside County Sheriff’s Office; Riverside Police Department; San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department; Beaumont Police Department; Ontario Police Department; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; the U.S. Attorney’s Office; and the FBI.

The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Annamartine Salick and Josh Parecki of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Allen W. Chiu, Christopher D. Grigg and Susan J. DeWitt of the Central District of California.

New Defense Secretary: ISIL Must be Dealt 'Lasting Defeat'

Nick Simeone at the DoD News offers the below piece:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2015 - There is no doubt the international coalition battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant "will deliver a lasting defeat," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told U.S. troops during his visit to Kuwait today.

However, he added, the effort will require commitment and patience.

Carter made the comments while visiting American troops at Camp Arifjan, just before convening a conference of ambassadors and senior U.S. and regional military leaders to "begin to make my own assessment of the campaign to counter ISIL."

He described the meeting, held on his fifth day as defense secretary, as "important to me as I formulate our own direction in this campaign."

Buildup of Local Forces

Before the conference, Carter told troops the international campaign to defeat ISIL -- called Operation Inherent Resolve -- will first require building up local forces, which he said will ultimately have to take the lead in battle. U.S. military advisors are now training Iraqi forces with plans by the coalition to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels as well.

Carter's comments and today's high-level meeting on countering ISIL come just days after a U.S. Central Command official told reporters an Iraqi-led assault to recapture the country's second-largest city, Mosul, from ISIL terrorists could begin as early as April.

"We need to be convinced that any use of our forces is necessary," Carter said at today's troop event, after being asked if he would recommend deploying U.S. combat troops on the front lines against ISIL.

"I want to make sure we've thought everything through and that we have a plan that leads to success," the secretary added.

Carter called ISIL a threat to the region beyond Syria and Iraq.

"If we're to have a defeat of ISIL -- which we must and will -- it needs to be a lasting defeat," said Carter, noting that can only happen if "there are those who can take responsibility for their societies and their territory after the campaign against ISIL has rid them of this scourge."

Note: The above DoD photo was taken by Glenn Fawcett.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Navy SEAL Who Killed Osama Bin Laden Reveals The Way To Destroy ISIS ‘In A Matter Of Days’

Rowan Scarborough at the Washington Times offers a piece on the views of former Navy SEAL Robert O'Neill.
The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden predicts that President Obama will reverse course and order American ground troops into Iraq to fight the Islamic State terrorist army.

“Apparently these guys have a short memory, and they’re daring us to come back, and when we do, it will be over in a matter of days,” said former Chief Petty Officer Robert O’Neill.

Mr. O’Neill believes the president’s advisers have come to realize the beleaguered Iraqi Security Forces, without U.S. boots on the ground, are not capable of taking back all the territory seized by the Islamic State, including the country’s second-largest city — densely defended Mosul.

“We need to fight them,” Mr. O’Neill told editors and reporters at The Washington Times in an exclusive interview. “We don’t need to create jobs for them. If deterrence doesn’t work, which it’s not, you meet force with force at the point of origin. We need to do that, and we’ll do that. We just need to realize that is what needs to be done.”

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link: 

General George Washington: The American Revolution's Indispensible Man

Michael D. Schaffer, my former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, offers a review of Robert Middlekauff's Washington's Revolution: The Making of America's First Leader in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

George Washington was the American Revolution's indispensable man.

That's the takeaway from Washington's Revolution, by Robert Middlekauff, professor emeritus of history at the University of California Berkeley. He says in the preface that the title reflects Washington's "enormous importance to the Revolution's course and outcome."

Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams all played major roles, but the Revolution could have gone on without them. Had Washington stopped a musket ball in battle, it's hard to imagine success for the revolutionaries. Middlekauff certainly can't imagine it. "None of the Americans around [Washington] in the army, the Congress or the states commanded the moral force he embodied. Success in maintaining the American effort would not have been achieved without him."

Washington, born 283 years ago today, was more than commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. "He was the political leader of the Revolution, though he drafted no legislation and signed no laws," Middlekauff writes. "But if he failed, it was widely understood, the Revolution failed."

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

ISIL 'a Very Complex Threat,' General Dempsey Says

Lisa Ferdinando at the DoD News offers the below piece:

KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands, Feb. 21, 2015 - Regional governments must take the lead in solving the "very complex threat" posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey made the comments in a town hall meeting here, in his first visit to this tiny atoll in the Pacific, the site of a World War II battle and the home of the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll/Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

Following the town hall that featured about 200 attendees, Dempsey noted how crises in the Middle East continue to demand significant attention even as he travels to discuss U.S. security interests in the Pacific.

Extremism Problem Not Easily Solved

The U.S. will continue its rebalance to the Pacific, Dempsey said. Meanwhile, the fight against violent extremism in the Middle East, an issue which the general described as a "generational problem" that's not going to be easily solved, will continue to demand U.S. military attention.

Persuading U.S. partners in the Middle East to take responsibility in the fight against ISIL while providing U.S. support and leadership are key factors of the campaign, he said.

The U.S. campaign design, Dempsey said, calls for a "light" footprint in enabling and assisting the region in the fight against ISIL. However, he added, ultimately it is up to moderates -- governments, Muslims and populations -- to reject ISIL's violent ideology.

"It's tough, and it's tough to figure out how to use the military in that environment," Dempsey said.

Reconstruction, counter-messaging, stopping the flow of foreign fighters, and stopping terror financing, the general said, are all needed to create conditions that will defeat the extremists.

In the meantime, he said, the U.S. military won't take its eye off the ball in dealing with direct threats to U.S. interests.

Keeping the Pressure on Extremists

"We will continue to keep pressure on those who are plotting against us," Dempsey said. "We have a network fighting this network and when we see pockets that are conducting external plotting that might affect the homeland, we can deal with it."

ISIL's followers believe "that they are in the midst of a crusade against other Muslims who don't believe exactly what they believe, and the West," the general said.

"ISIL is really just the most recent manifestation of what I think is actually an internal conflict, internal to Islam, the conflict between Sunni and Shia, and between moderates and ultra conservatives," he told the audience of U.S. civilian workers and military personnel.

ISIL is not growing exponentially, as may be the perception, the chairman said. Rather, he said, other violent extremist groups, including those in Libya, Somalia, and the Arabian Peninsula, are "rebranding themselves" to align with ISIL, in the hopes of increasing their own influence.

The United States and its coalition partners are continuing airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, he said.

After the town hall, Dempsey departed for Australia where he is meeting with Australian government officials as part of the focus on the U.S. rebalance to the Pacific region.

FBI Art Crime Team Celebrates 10th Anniversary: A Decade Of Successful Investigations And Recoveries

The FBI website offers a Q & A with the FBI's Art Crime Team's manager. 

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, recently discussed the team’s history, mission, and accomplishments with Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who manages the Bureau’s art theft program.

Q: How did the Art Crime Team get started?

Magness-Gardiner: The FBI has always had agents who investigated frauds and thefts related to art, but in 2003, there was substantial looting of Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad. Thousands of works were stolen. Because of the U.S. presence in Iraq at the time, it was clear that somebody would have to investigate. It was also clear that the U.S. government didn’t have a team organized, in place, or with the expertise required to do that kind of investigation. But the need for such a team was apparent, and the FBI took that on. The Art Crime Team was formed a year or so later.

Q: What were those early days like?

Magness-Gardiner: When I first arrived, the team consisted of eight agents located in field offices around the country, as well as three trial attorneys from the Department of Justice assigned to assist with prosecutions. Today, the agent component has almost doubled to 15 men and women. One of the great benefits of having the agents located in so many cities in the U.S. is that we literally cover the country.

You can read the rest of the interview, part 1, and watch a video via the below link:  

You can read part 2 of the interview and watch a video via the below link: 

Friday, February 20, 2015

General Dempsey: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Terrorists, Cyber Among Top Threats

Lisa Ferdinando at DoD News offers a piece on General Dempsey speaking about national security threats.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Feb. 19, 2015 - The global security environment contains a host of threats, including Russian aggression that threatens NATO allies, and the violent extremists network from western Pakistan to north Africa, said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke today at a student conference on national affairs at Texas A&M University, rounding out a two-day visit to the campus.

He outlined his "two, two, two and one" view on national security, which is comprised of two heavyweights, two middleweights, two networks and one domain.

Russia is included as a heavyweight, along with China.

Russia 'Lit a Fire'

Russia "lit a fire of ethnicity and nationalism that actually threatens to burn out of control," he said. "And in so doing, they are threatening our NATO allies."

Dempsey said it is hard to imagine that in 2015 there would be that kind of conflict and "those kind of instincts" that are coming to the front again in Europe.

The human suffering in Ukraine is "atrocious," he said.

"It's almost unimaginable," the chairman told the audience, which included members of the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets, other university students and members of the military.

The United States is working with its NATO allies, he said, to reassure the alliance and also try to assist Eastern Europe, including non-NATO countries, in "suppressing this effort to rekindle fires that haven't burned in Europe" in 70 years.

China Reemerging

On the other heavyweight, China, he said that nation is reemerging on the global scene. It is a very strong economic country that is becoming militarily strong, the chairman said.

The United States will continue to work with China in managing any differences, he said.

"We'll be competitors but it doesn't mean, I think, we'll have to be enemies," he said. "We're working hard to do that."

Middleweight Powers: Iran, North Korea

The two middleweights are Iran and North Korea.

The United States is working with its partners to try to convince Iran to seek a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, he said. Western nations contend that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, while Tehran says its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes.

"We are working hard to reach a negotiated settlement on their nuclear program, but we shouldn't forget there are other issues which cause us concern about Iran," the chairman said, noting those concerns include Iran being a state sponsor of terrorism.

Networks and Cyber Domain

The two networks Dempsey talked about in his speech are the violent extremist network from western Pakistan to northern Africa, and the transnational criminal network that runs north and south in the Western Hemisphere. The domain is cyber.

The transregional network of al-Qaida, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other terrorists are competing for a radical, anti-Western ideology that is fomenting the internal challenges of Islam's Sunni and Shia, he said.

"That network is transregional," he said. "It will take a generation or more to be defeated and it will take persistence on our part and working closely and most often through partners and hardening our allies in order to deal with it."

To combat both the extremist and transnational criminal networks, they need to be "pressed" across their entire length, not just "pinched" in a spot, the chairman said.

"You have to interdict the financing; you have to interdict the flow of foreign fighters or criminals. It takes a really broad effort with partners to deal with that," he said.

Finally, on the domain of cyber, he said, "we've got a lot of work to do. We've made some strides, some pretty significant strides, militarily in particular in terms of defending ourselves."

But the general said despite the security in military networks, 90 percent of his administration and logistics functions ride on commercial Internet providers.

"So if they're vulnerable, I'm vulnerable and I don't like being vulnerable," he said.

Action in securing this domain, he said, includes legislation that establishes a common set of standards on Internet security, and allows information sharing between the government and the private sector.

From College Station, Dempsey travels on to Kwajalein Atoll and Australia.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Whites: Richard Price Has A Big Appetite For The Grey Areas Where Good Stories Live

Dan Slater at the Daily Beast offers an interview with Richard Price, the author of The Whites.

If authenticity comes from an author’s commitment, over many books, to a genuinely-felt concern rather than the pieties of the day, then Richard Price is one of the most authentic writers of our time.

Like many novelists, he does research. But the authenticity of his fiction is about more than reportorial accuracy. It’s about nailing the sense of a place; its institutions and people; their relationships and conflicts; and of course the dialogue, for which Price is peerless.

His eighth novel, a New York cop story called The Whites, is being published under a transparent pen name: “Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt.” The reason for this awkwardness depends on who you ask. It’s either about Price wanting to make more money by speeding up production and dividing his career into two tracks – serious stuff and genre novels—or it’s about a contractual solution ironed out between his two publishers, or both.

Either way, fans need not worry: The Whites took four years to write, and is very much a Price novel. The head fake, however, seemed like a good time to ask Price how crime writing can transcend genre. We spoke recently in his Harlem brownstone.  

When James Wood reviewed your last novel, Lush Life, he wrote that you have greater ambitions than your genre can accommodate. Are you a genre writer?

No. I think what he’s saying, and what I feel myself, is that I slightly ghettoize myself by continuously writing about cops. But I feel like a literary writer. Not to be grandiose, but would you call Theodore Dreiser, after An American Tragedy, a crime writer? Would you call Dostoyevsky a crime writer?

When you’re looking at a huge phenomenon—such as the crack epidemic and relationships between black kids and cops; or the the amorphousness of the Lower East Side—how do you write about that? It’s a panorama. But where’s your story? A crime, and the investigation that follows, gives you a spine for your panorama, a way into the world. The nature of investigation pulls in so many disparate people: lawyers, witnesses, families, victims, killers. It’s a beautifully built-in way to show all the things you’re fascinated by, but in a pertinent way to the story.

What’s a great crime-centric novel that’s not a genre book?

George V. Higgins’s first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Higgins was a former prosecutor in Boston. The novel was about the Boston underworld. It was a small story about small people. But it was so dead-on. The guy had an astounding ear for dialogue. And yeah, it was considered one of the great pieces of crime fiction, but I wouldn’t call it a genre book by any means.

You can read the rest of the interview via the below link:

Note: I've been assigned by the Philadelphia Inquirer to review The Whites and I'm reading the novel. I'll link to my review in a future post.

Colombian National Sentenced To 360 Months In Prison For the Kidnapping And Murder of DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson

The U.S. Justice Department released the below information:

Two Colombian nationals were sentenced to prison yesterday in the Eastern District of Virginia for the kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent James “Terry” Watson in Bogotá, Colombia, on June 20, 2013, and subsequent concealment of those crimes.

Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge George L. Piro of the FBI’s Miami Field Office, DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and Bill A. Miller, Director, U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service made the announcement.

“These two defendants bear responsibility for the kidnapping and murder of a courageous federal agent,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “With this sentencing, they face justice for their involvement in this brutal crime.  Our nation owes a great debt to Special Agent Terry Watson and his loved ones.  We will never rest in our determination to honor his profound sacrifices, to pursue all who would threaten our brave men and women in law enforcement, and to carry on the vital work for which he gave his life.”

“Yesterday’s sentencing is another important step in bringing justice to those responsible for the murder of Special Agent Terry Watson,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.  “Terry was a respected and dedicated DEA Special Agent and we will not rest until all those involved in this heinous act are sentenced.  Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the Watson family as this case moves towards a final resolution.”   

Edwin Gerardo Figueroa Sepúlveda, 39, of Bogotá, previously pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the murder of an internationally protected person and conspiracy to kidnap an internationally protected person.  Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced Figueroa Sepúlveda to 360 months.  Wilson Daniel Peralta-Bocachica, 31, also of Bogotá, previously pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to 40 months yesterday.

In the statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Figueroa Sepúlveda admitted that he conspired to conduct “paseo milionarios” or “millionaire’s rides” in which he and his co-conspirators lured victims into taxi cabs, then kidnapped and robbed them.  He admitted that on the evening of June 20, 2013, he was part of a six-person robbery crew that targeted Special Agent Watson. 

One of the members of the crew picked up Special Agent Watson in his taxi, while another drove a second taxi carrying the assailants.  Figueroa Sepúlveda entered the taxi carrying Special Agent Watson and shocked him with a stun gun several times while another defendant stabbed him.
Special Agent Watson was able to escape from the taxi, but he later collapsed and died from his injuries.

In a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Peralta-Bocachica admitted that in the days following the kidnapping and murder, he washed the taxi in which Special Agent Watson was stabbed, removing the victim’s blood from the back seat then discarding the cleaning rags, before turning the taxi over to the Colombian National Police.

A total of six defendants were charged for their involvement in the murder and kidnapping of Special Agent Watson, in addition to Peralta-Bocachica who was charged with obstruction of justice.  Héctor Leonardo López, 34; Julio Estiven Gracia Ramírez, 32; Andrés Álvaro Oviedo García, 22; Omar Fabián Valdes Gualtero, 28; and Édgar Javier Bello Murillo, 28, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kidnap and aiding and abetting the murder of an internationally protected person. 

On Dec. 12, 2014, López was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Gracia Ramírez was sentenced to 27 years in prison, and Oviedo García was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  Omar Fabián Valdes Gualtero and Édgar Javier Bello Murillo are scheduled to be sentenced on April 15, 2015.

This case was investigated by the FBI, DEA and the Diplomatic Security Service, in close cooperation with Colombian authorities and with assistance from INTERPOL and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.  The case is being prosecuted by Special Counsel Stacey Luck of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael P. Ben’Ary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The Department of Justice gratefully acknowledges the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, Colombian National Police, Colombian Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol (DIJIN), DIJIN Special Investigative Unit, Bogotá Metropolitan Police, Bogotá Police Intelligence Body (CIPOL) Unit and Colombian Technical Investigation Team for their extraordinary efforts, support and professionalism in responding to this incident.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ernest Hemingway, Kansas City Star Reporter: 'The Best Rules I Ever Learned For The Business Of Writing'

Jim Fisher, a columnist for the Kansas City Star, offers a piece on the Star's most famous reporter, Ernest Hemingway.

In 1915, the sinking of the Lusitania received exceptional play in The Kansas City Star. A two-column headline announced the tragedy, the first of many in the next few years. The European powers plunged deeper into war, drawing the United States inexorably toward the trenches, which already snaked across the fields of eastern France.

Yet the war, in its first years, seemed distant in Kansas City. The Star supplied readers twice a day with details of the expanding conflict, but, on the whole, it still emphasized local news. Reporters, as they would for the next 60 years, bent over their typewriters, which then were attached to oaken tables in the cavernous city room. The staff rotated as The Star finished its run and the night staff of “The Morning Kansas City Star,” The Times, came to work. Almost to a man, the reporters wore caps and hats. Celluloid collars pinched their necks.

But change was in the air. And into the midst of The Star staff, in late 1917, came a youth who, when he could get away with it, wore a red and black checkered hunting shirt to work. Old timers frowned on such dress. But the young reporter worked outside the office most of the time. His name was Ernest Hemingway.

Years later scholars would come to Kansas City to investigate Hemingway’s tenure at The Star, which lasted from October 1917 to April 1918. This period fascinated Hemingway students because his lean, spare writing style, basically “Star Style,” led him to become one of the most acclaimed writers of the 20th century, winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature and a legend as a man, warrior, womanizer and drinker.

You can read therest of the piece via the below link:

Russian National Charged In Largest Known Data Breach Prosecution Extradited To United States

The U.S. Justice Department released the below link:

A Russian national appeared in federal court in Newark today after being extradited from the Netherlands to face charges that he conspired in the largest international hacking and data breach scheme ever prosecuted in the United States, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Secretary Jeh Johnson of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey and Acting Director Joseph P. Clancy of the U.S. Secret Service.

Vladimir Drinkman, 34, of Syktyykar and Moscow, Russia, was charged for his alleged role in a data theft conspiracy that targeted major corporate networks, stole more than 160 million credit card numbers, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.  Prior to his extradition, he had been detained by the Dutch authorities since his arrest in the Netherlands on June 28, 2012.

Drinkman appeared today before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark and entered a plea of not guilty to all 11 counts charged in the indictment and was ordered detained without bail.  Trial before U.S. District Judge Jerome B. Simandle was scheduled for April 27, 2015.

“Cyber criminals conceal themselves in one country and steal information located in another country, impacting victims around the world,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “Hackers often take advantage of international borders and differences in legal systems, hoping to evade extradition to face justice.  This case and today's extradition demonstrates that through international cooperation, and through great teamwork between the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, we are able to bring cyber thieves to justice in the United States, wherever they may commit their crimes.”

“Drinkman’s extradition on the indictment this office brought more than a year and a half ago shows how relentlessly we will pursue those who are charged with these serious crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman.  “The incredibly sophisticated work with our partners at the U.S. Secret Service to uncover this enormous, far-reaching scheme demanded an equal effort by our colleagues at the Department of Justice Criminal Division in Washington and our law enforcement partners overseas to bring the defendant back to face these charges.”

“This case demonstrates our commitment to fulfilling an important part of our integrated mission; that of protecting our Nation’s critical financial infrastructure,” said Acting Director Clancy.  “Our success in this investigation and other similar investigations is a credit to our skilled and relentless cyber investigators.  Our determination, coupled with our network of foreign law enforcement partners, ensures that our investigative reach can expand beyond the borders of the United States.”

According to the second superseding indictment, unsealed on July 25, 2013, and other court filings, Drinkman and four co-defendants each served particular roles in the scheme. Drinkman and Alexandr Kalinin, 28, of St. Petersburg, Russia, each allegedly specialized in penetrating network security and gaining access to the corporate victims’ systems.  Roman Kotov, 33, of Moscow, allegedly specialized in mining the networks Drinkman and Kalinin compromised to steal valuable data.

 According to allegations in the indictment, the hackers hid their activities using anonymous web-hosting services provided by Mikhail Rytikov, 27, of Odessa, Ukraine.  Dmitriy Smilianets, 31, of Moscow, then allegedly sold the stolen information and distributed the proceeds of the scheme to the participants.

Drinkman and his co-defendants are charged with attacks on NASDAQ, 7-Eleven, Carrefour, JCP, Hannaford, Heartland, Wet Seal, Commidea, Dexia, JetBlue, Dow Jones, Euronet, Visa Jordan, Global Payment, Diners Singapore and Ingenicard.  It is not alleged that the NASDAQ hack affected its trading platform.

Drinkman and Kalinin were previously charged in New Jersey as “Hacker 1” and “Hacker 2” in a 2009 indictment charging Albert Gonzalez, 33, of Miami, in connection with five corporate data breaches, including the breach of Heartland Payment Systems Inc., which at the time was the largest ever reported.  Gonzalez is currently serving 20 years in federal prison for those offenses.  Kalinin is also charged in two federal indictments in the Southern District of New York: one charges Kalinin in connection with hacking certain computer servers used by NASDAQ and the second charges him and another Russian hacker, Nikolay Nasenkov, with an international scheme to steal bank account information from U.S.-based financial institutions.  Rytikov was previously charged in the Eastern District of Virginia with an unrelated scheme.

Drinkman and Smilianets were arrested at the request of the United States while traveling in the Netherlands on June 28, 2012.  Smilianets was extradited on Sept. 7, 2012, and remains in federal custody.  Kalinin, Kotov and Rytikov remain at large.  All of the defendants are Russian nationals except for Rytikov, who is a citizen of Ukraine.

The Attacks

According to allegations in the indictment, the five defendants conspired with others to penetrate the computer networks of several of the largest payment processing companies, retailers and financial institutions in the world, stealing the personal identifying information of individuals.  They allegedly took user names and passwords, means of identification, credit and debit card numbers and other corresponding personal identification information of cardholders. The conspirators allegedly acquired at least 160 million card numbers through hacking.

The initial entry was often gained using a “SQL injection attack.”  SQL, or Structured Query Language, is a type of programming language designed to manage data held in particular types of databases.  The hackers allegedly identified vulnerabilities in SQL databases and used those vulnerabilities to infiltrate a computer network.  Once the network was infiltrated, the defendants allegedly placed malicious code, or malware, on the system.  This malware created a “back door,” leaving the system vulnerable and helping the defendants maintain access to the network.  In some cases, the defendants lost access to the system due to companies’ security efforts, but were allegedly able to regain access through persistent attacks.

Instant message chats obtained by law enforcement reveal that the defendants allegedly targeted the victim companies for many months, waiting patiently as their efforts to bypass security were underway, sometimes leaving malware implanted for more than a year.

The defendants allegedly used their access to the networks to install “sniffers,” which were programs designed to identify, collect and steal data from the victims’ computer networks. The defendants then allegedly used an array of computers located around the world to store the stolen data and ultimately sell it to others.

Selling the Data

After acquiring the card numbers and associated data—which they referred to as “dumps”—the conspirators allegedly sold it to resellers around the world.  The buyers then sold the dumps through online forums or directly to individuals and organizations.  Smilianets was allegedly in charge of sales, selling the data only to trusted identity theft wholesalers.  He allegedly charged approximately $10 for each stolen American credit card number and associated data, approximately $50 for each European credit card number and associated data and approximately $15 for each Canadian credit card number and associated data, offering discounted pricing to bulk and repeat customers.  Ultimately, the end users encoded each dump onto the magnetic strip of a blank plastic card and cashed out the value of the dump by either withdrawing money from ATMs or making purchases with the cards.

Covering Their Tracks

The defendants allegedly used a number of methods to conceal the scheme.  Rytikov allegedly allowed his clients to hack with the knowledge he would never keep records of their online activities or share information with law enforcement.

Over the course of the conspiracy, the defendants allegedly communicated through private and encrypted communications channels to avoid detection.  Fearing law enforcement would intercept even those communications, some of the conspirators allegedly attempted to meet in person.

To protect against detection by the victim companies, the defendants allegedly altered the settings on victim company networks to disable security mechanisms from logging their actions.  The defendants also allegedly worked to evade existing protections by security software.

As a result of the scheme, financial institutions, credit card companies and consumers suffered hundreds of millions in losses—including more than $300 million in losses reported by just three of the corporate victims—and immeasurable losses to the identity theft victims in costs associated with stolen identities and false charges.

The charges and allegations contained indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The ongoing investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Secret Service.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Rick Green of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Chief Gurbir S. Grewal of the District of New Jersey’s Economic Crimes Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Pak of the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Section of the District of New Jersey’s Economic Crimes Unit.

The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs assisted with the case, as did public prosecutors with the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice and the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Dutch National Police.

New York Mobster John (Junior) Gotti Brags He Lied To Feds, Insists He's Not A 'Rat'

John Marzulli at the New York Daily News offers a piece on John "Junior" Gotti.

John (Junior) Gotti wants to make one thing perfectly clear — he’s not a rat.

In a sitdown with the Daily News, the mob scion and his lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman gave their most detailed explanation to date of Gotti’s stunning decision to sit down with federal prosecutors in 2005 for a proffer session where he discussed crimes of his own — and of other mobsters in the Gambino crime family.

But he insists the “rat” label is unfair, because he intentionally provided bad information to the feds he felt sick talking to.

“No one got indicted,” said Gotti, who recently published a memoir titled “Shadow of My Father.”

“No one suffered but me.”

Gotti acknowledged that his old-school father, the late Gambino boss John Gotti, would never have approved of the legal strategy. But Junior said he was in a bad place at the time.

He was facing trial on racketeering and stock fraud charges that could put him away for 100 years if he were convicted. Gotti was furious over the indictment because he thought federal prosecutors had given him coverage on those alleged charges from a prior plea agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office.

Gotti said he planned to give the feds information that was either useless or out-and-out false, and refused to ever testify against anyone. He hoped that prosecutors would give him a sweetheart plea deal while he would get two of his archenemies, reputed capo Daniel Marino and associate Joseph (Joe the German) Watts, jammed up with the feds.

The plan made no sense to anyone except Gotti — and got him excoriated as a “rat” by his ex-underling John Alite.

Alite cut a deal to get out of prison and somehow got ahold of the five-page summary of Gotti’s blabbing, and published the secret FBI report in his memoir, “Gotti’s Rules.”

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

George Anastasia offers the documentation mentioned above in his book on John Alite and the Gotti family.

You can read my Philadelphia Inquirer review of Gotti's Rules via the below link:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

60 Minutes Interview With Bradley Cooper, Star of 'American Sniper'

Steve Croft at 60 Minutes interviewed Bradley Cooper, an intelligent and talented actor, this past Sunday.

As recently as five years ago you would have been forgiven for not knowing exactly who Bradley Cooper was despite the fact that he had been in roughly 20 movies and four television series. Today, you have no excuse. He's had quite a year, winning acclaim for two roles that couldn't be more different: one on stage portraying a sensitive soul with a horrible affliction and the other on film as a stoic, solitary Navy SEAL in Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper."

You can watch the interview, as well as the extended interview on 60 Minutes Overtime, where Cooper visited the Italian Market in South Philly with the Italian-American side of his family, via the below link:

On Murder And Malware: Michael Mann, The Crime Drama Kingpin

I've not yet seen Michael Mann's Blackhat, but it sounds interesting as I have serious concerns about cyber crime, cyber espionage and cyber warfare.

Mann is a serious crime writer, director and producer. I've enjoyed Mann's previous crime films, such as Thief and Manhunter. I especially liked Mann's TV crime series Crime Story.

The late Dennis Farina, a former Chicago cop, was very good as the detective squad lieutenant. Anthony Denison was also very good as a gangster, as was Andrew Dice Clay. The supporting cast was also first rate.

The late John Santucci (his real name was John Schiavone), who was a real Chicago burglar, was outstanding as a crook in Crime Story. Mann's film Thief was based on Santucci, and he is shown on the right in the bottom photo.

I was enjoying Mann's HBO series Luck until it was sadly canceled over the death of a horse at a racetrack.

So I was interested in reading Jonathan Bernstein's interview with Mann at the British newspaper the Guardian.

Shimmering neon reflected on the spotless bonnets of expensive sports cars. Sleek speedboats piloted across ice-blue water by Armani-clad criminals with strict moral codes. Bone-weary cops who view their underworld adversaries with professional respect. That’s far from the totality of Michael Mann’s career, but it sums up the stylish world with which his name is synonymous.

For over three decades, the director has painted both small and large screens with beautifully lit pictures that dwell on the violent lives of terse, tough men. Men the calibre of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Heat, James Caan in Thief, Tom Cruise in Collateral, and even Don Johnson, who may have sported pastels in Miami Vice, but was a man with a guarded exterior who weighed his words.
Chris Hemsworth, who plays the hacker at the centre of Mann’s latest film, Blackhat, may use codes and viruses rather than glass-cutters and sub-machine guns, but he fits perfectly into the director’s archetype of a male lead: stoic, unsentimental and dispassionate.

Yet real-life events suggest that maybe this archetype isn’t as reliable as it used to be. In the US, Blackhat debuted a week after North Korea temporarily crippled Sony Pictures, an action of massive consequence without a steel-jawed hero anywhere near it. I ask Mann whether he watched what happened to The Interview and experienced a degree of trepidation for his own release. The 71-year-old director waves away the question like a mosquito buzzing around his face.

“On a scale of one to 10 of intrusion, what happened at Sony was about a four,” he says, his Chicago accent still broad. “You have one country’s fighter jets that are being stolen from another country’s defence contractors. There’s malware called Shamoon that overwrites on the actual disc so there’s no way to recover data.” Mann, who showed up to our meeting bearing a stack of official-looking folders, reaches into the pile and pulls out some photocopied documents that delve even deeper into the intricacies of Shamoon. He directs my attention to the document with a steely gaze that implies: “Don’t bother me with Seth Rogen, when Shamoon’s out there”.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

To learn more about Michael Mann you can also read an earlier interview with him at via the below links: